Manufacturing Recycling Programs Guide

Why Recycling Is So Important in Manufacturing

A robust recycling program is key to minimizing the solid waste stream from any manufacturing operation. “Industrial waste” is an umbrella term that refers to all materials that are of no further use at the end of a manufacturing process.

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The most abundant industrial waste is industrial solid waste, which U.S. industries generate to the tune of about 8 billion tons a year. Industrial waste comes from a wide variety of manufacturing sectors, including chemical manufacturing, cement manufacturing, metal mining, electrical utilities, food processing, the manufacturing of consumer products, and more.

Some of these sectors generate toxic or hazardous waste that requires special handling and disposal. It’s difficult to address the subject of industrial waste in a way that applies to all industrial sectors. But the underlying concept is universal: the minimization of solid waste through a combination of reuse, repurposing, recycling, and other strategies for keeping solid waste out of the nation’s landfills.

Where Does Manufacturing Waste Come From?

Bear in mind that manufacturing waste does not originate exclusively on a factory floor. There are office employees who generate waste in the form of paper, empty ink cartridges, obsolete and malfunctioning electronics, and other materials that may or may not be recyclable. Many components and materials used in production processes come in cardboard or plastic containers that become part of a manufacturing facility’s waste stream. And let’s not forget the cafeteria and break room waste, typically full of recyclable plastic bottles and aluminum cans. It’s no wonder that industrial recycling is a booming business sector.

Benefits of Having a Manufacturing Recycling Program

Many manufacturing facilities are subject to federal, state, and municipal waste management regulations. Having a comprehensive manufacturing recycling program makes regulatory compliance easier. It is also the environmentally responsible thing to do, which benefits everyone in the long run. Additionally, there is money to be made by selling recyclables, reusing scrap materials from the facility’s own processes, purchasing materials that include recycled content, and implementing process efficiencies to support recycling.

Key Steps for Implementing a Manufacturing Recycling Program

Realizing these and other benefits to be gained through recycling requires a solid manufacturing recycling program. Here are some guidelines to get you started.

  1. Start with some process-related research and analysis aimed at answering questions such as:
  • What kinds of materials currently being discarded are actually recyclable?
  • Where are they originating within the manufacturing facility?
  • What is the average weekly or monthly volume of each type of recyclable material?
  • Can reasonable process changes be made to reduce the amount of waste in favor of reusable or recyclable materials? (Think in terms of lean manufacturing principles.)
  • Are there natural points in the workflow where recyclables can be separated from the waste stream without negatively impacting productivity?
  • Is it feasible to sort recyclables when they are separated from the waste stream to eliminate the need to sort commingled recyclables, which is more labor-intensive?
  1. Once you know what recyclable materials you’re dealing with, you can investigate your recycling options.
  • Does the manufacturing facility have the capacity and resources to do any onsite recycling or will it be necessary to partner with a waste management company that can collect and transport your recyclables to one or more recycling companies?
  • If you will be partnering with a waste management company, which one offers all the needed services and the most advantageous financial arrangement?
  • What are the desired outcomes of the recycling program other than waste reduction? Income from selling recyclables? Return of recycled materials as inputs to the manufacturing process? Other?
  1. In consultation with your waste management partner, if any, and those who are most familiar with the facility’s manufacturing processes, devise a comprehensive recycling plan that addresses:
  • The specific materials to be recycled
  • The points at which receptacles will be placed to separate recyclables from the waste stream
  • What sorting, if any, will be done onsite
  • How frequently recyclables will be collected and transported to a recycling facility
  • How and when the recycling plan will be implemented, monitored, and evaluated
  1. Create a written recycling policy that:
  • Assigns specific recycling roles and responsibilities
  • Documents recycling procedures
  • Establishes the recycling schedule
  • Provides incentives for recycling compliance
  • Invites feedback from employees
  1. Communicate the recycling policy and procedures facility-wide and take measures to ensure that the new way of doing things becomes the way things are done, such as:
  • Introducing the recycling plan through a series of communications in the weeks preceding its implementation
  • Labeling recycling receptacles and posting signs near each listing all materials to be separated from the waste stream for recycling
  • Conducting any training necessitated by recycling-related process changes
  • Establishing procedures for soliciting and receiving feedback and improvement suggestions from employees
  1. Fully implement the recycling plan with a goal of continuous improvement.
  • Periodically (monthly or quarterly) share recycling results with employees (e.g., post recycling volume, waste reduction numbers, and income/money saved through recycling in common areas, such as cafeterias and break rooms as well as on the shop floor).
  • Review employee feedback and suggestions, implement improvements as appropriate based on input from employees, and publicly acknowledge such contributions.
  • Perhaps expand the recycling program over time to include other materials.

Benefits of Working with a Waste Management Company

Many manufacturing companies find working with a waste management company to establish and execute a comprehensive recycling program makes very good business sense. Waste management professionals give manufacturing companies greater operational efficiency. They also have the deep knowledge of regulatory requirements to help ensure compliance, and their knowledge of recycling companies and manufacturers that purchase recycled materials enables them to source new income streams for their industrial clients. If you don’t have the internal resources to handle your facility’s recycling needs, bringing in some professionals may be the way to go. Contact Repurposed Materials today to find out how we can help you find a new home for unwanted materials.